Friday, November 04, 2005

Interpreting Instrumental Philosophy

Here is a flash heavy, intriguing and unsatisfying explanation of Harmolodic Philosophy. I love harmolodic theory. I love Ornette Coleman's music. I've watched this thing a few times and find it lacking. It's like an animated series of chapter titles or bullet points that desperately need to be fleshed out (and not so animated). This may be one theory that is best appreciated in application and best learned through reverse-engineering.

Speaking of reverse-engineering the music of Ornette Coleman. Every fan of his work has a gaping hole in their collections. Even if one has every commercial release. Ornette Coleman has long maintained that his best work was in 1973 when he recorded with the Master Musicians of Joujouka in Morocco. These recordings remain unreleased. Which label controls these and how can one go about petitioning to get these out?
I'm still chewing on this Composer's Forum entry regarding Ellie Hisama's charge that John Zorn writes music that is overtly sexist and racist in her essay: "John Zorn and the Postmodern Condition" published by Wesleyan University Press. Over the years I've heard plenty of rumors of Zorn's misogyny and his use of extreme visuals is well known. I'll have to read the essay in full but the quotes in the entry raise some red flags for me. In particular this critique of Torture Garden:
'“male-identified figures (the voice and the saxophone [Zorn'’s instrument]) can be heard as having an emotional outlet and freedom to play and do whatever they want, the women remain mute and thus uncomplaining about whatever is done to them'” (79-80).
Reading gender roles into instrumental music and extrapolating an agenda from that is dubious to say the least. I know Torture Garden well. I've seen it performed more than once and have a copy in my collection. I can't imagine what mute "female" roles she could possibly be referring to within this instrumentation if the saxophone is somehow "male." Is there some latent sexism for not scoring the work for "female" instruments? How does one extrapolate gender roles from an instrumental work in the first place and why? Are there gender roles in other instrumental works that need to be examined for latent "incorrect" tendencies? Is the Firebird Suite, Aaron Copeland's Sextet, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme or Olivier Messian's Quartet for the End of Time? Is that really how one is supposed to perceive instrumental music? I'm no expert in "postmodern theory" but it strikes me as being more of a MacGuffin than harmolodic theory is.

Hisama may have a better case when evaluating Zorn's visuals. There is much less interpretive leeway and they are admittedly abrasive and deeply disturbing. Much of the music in that packaging is excellent so I try not to dwell on the images but I understand it as a visual punch toward evoking an emotional response parallelell to the abrasive sonic textures and dark territory he's exploring. Though I really wish he'd let the music stand on its own it's his call to mingle the concrete and the abstract as he sees fit.

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